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Romance de Guerre
Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Violin Sonata in A major (1915) [24:32]
Blair FAIRCHILD (1877-1933)
Violin Sonata, Op.43 (c.1919) [23:07]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Sonata in E minor, Op.82 (1918) [23:46]
Benjamin DALE (1885-1943)
Prunella (1916) [2:30]
Ambroise Aubrun (violin)
Steven Vanhauwaert (piano)
rec. 2017, Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Centre, UCLA
HORTUS 726 [71:15]

Hortus reaches volume 26 in its exhaustive and fascinating exploration of music written during the First World War, or in some way associated with it. This time there are three almost equally scaled sonatas of which the Elgar is the most performed and recorded, the Gaubert one of the most evocative sonatas of the period, and the Blair Fairchild the least encountered.

Gaubert’s Sonata was written in the trenches, where he served as a stretcher-bearer, and dedicated to Thibaud and Cortot. Despite the circumstances of its composition it largely inhabits the world of Gallic pastoral lyricism and effortless charm. Whilst the slow movement is warmly sculpted but never quite achieves memorability there’s a deliciously witty, stuttering, comic scherzando and a finale where, just briefly, he comes closest to a Debussian ethos, though one wouldn’t call this inspired by impressionism. It’s played with imagination and zest by the Aubrun-Vanhauwaert pairing but unfortunately here, and throughout the disc, they are let down by a dry acoustic that decays immediately, without any bloom to it. Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian and Marie-Josèphe Jude’s rather tighter performance on Timpani 1C1203 is part of an all-Gaubert disc and captured in more attractive sound.

Elgar’s Sonata gets another excellently judged performance. The tempi are forthright and direct, and the reading is clean-cut and dynamic. The first movement’s second subject is flexible but not too elastic and the play of left and right hand at the piano is perceptively calibrated. Aubrun doesn’t extract overmuch colour, or possibly the dead recording militates against it, but the interpretation as a whole rather reminds me of Simone Lamsma and Yurie Miura’s all-Elgar Naxos recording. Neither violinist phrases over-generously, both keeping the work on a taut leash, which I like.

The Bostonian composer Blair Fairchild studied at Harvard and Florence – his mentor was John Knowles Payne – but he also studied with Widor in Paris and spent most of the remainder of his relatively short life there, an American expatriate. The Second Violin Sonata, Op.43 was composed for his protégé Samuel Dushkin around 1919. In its languorous-lyric opening it evokes Delius but the coltish scherzo, zesty and skittish, perhaps suggests rathe more the influence of Ravel. There’s a most attractive ripely romantic slow movement full of introspective lyricism – thoughtful dynamics here – and a songful finale with a four-voice fugue that appears out of the blue. It’s the most surprising and not especially successful moment of a sonata that should be performed rather more often than has been the case.
To end there is a slither from Benjamin Dale, the nostalgic Prunella, composed when he was incarcerated in Ruhleben in either 1916 or 1917; Hortus goes for the former but Dutton – where it’s played by Lorraine McAslan and Michael Dussek – suggest the following year. 1916 seems to be correct.

With characteristically good documentation and intelligent, thoughtful performances the success of this disc is only limited by the unsympathetic recording quality. Nevertheless, I’d persist for the Fairchild in particular, which is hen’s teeth in recording terms, and the attractive Gaubert Sonata, which is not quite so rare. As a bonus therefore, you’ll get a tensile and convincing Elgar.

Jonathan Woolf



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